Adult services at Norfolk Council will be externally audited after a local user-group reported the organisation to regulators for breaching the Care Act.
The council requested the audit. It will be carried out by the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) and funded by the Local Government Association.
The move follows a complaint made by a local user-group in February this year.
Equal Lives reported the council to the Care Quality Commission for ‘disregarding’ its duties under the Care Act.
The user-group claimed eligibility thresholds had been raised and care package reviews were being used to reduce, or completely withdraw, support for people regardless of need.
It also said the decision to remove ‘wellbeing’ payments for personal budget holders in 2014 had had a “devastating impact” on service users’ lives.
The council has strongly disputed any claims that it breached its statutory duties.
‘Care Act implementation’
Equal Lives escalated the complaint last month by sending a letter to health secretary Jeremy Hunt, which urged him to order the CQC to investigate Norfolk’s adult social care department.
Norfolk’s executive director for adult social services Harold Bodmer told Community Care that the council still maintained the ‘systemic nature’ of the complaint was unjustified, but it was responding to any issues.
“We have engaged SCIE to do a piece of work with us – of course looking at the complaint that was made but also helping us to think about the implementation of the Care Act,” he said.
“We hope we will be able to use this as a real development and learning opportunity to improve practice in the context of the financial position that we are in.”
SCIE will review the council’s policies and procedures, meet with key stakeholders, talk to service users and social workers, and audit some cases.
Minutes from a meeting of the council’s adult social care committee last month said SCIE would also assist on further development work on casework.
‘Inspection with teeth’
Mark Harrison, chief executive of Equal Lives, said: “I would welcome the SCIE review if it helps implement the Care Act and make personalisation meaningful. However, given the culture within Norfolk and the level of resources, I’m not sure that can be achieved. The council is operating a social care system based on available resources, not on the legislation.
“I want to be very clear that we are still pressing the Department of Health and the CQC to investigate failings in Norfolk because, based on the evidence we’ve presented, we believe that is necessary. The decision the council made in 2014 to cut ‘wellbeing’ payments, and the funding decisions it has taken since then, have taken more money out of adult social care.
“What we want is a truly independent inspection that has teeth, which can tell Norfolk if it has breached the Care Act, where it has breach it and what resources it can put in.
“They are trying to pretend they can do this on a wing and prayer, but the reality is people’s social care budgets are being devastated.”
The adult social care committee papers also stated that a member of council staff could be based at Equal Lives for a proportion of their working week, to improve direct communication.
Harrison said he had discussed this with Norfolk at a meeting in February and “in principle, it was a good idea”, but he had not met with directors since to confirm the terms of reference.